When Hair Had Social Power

Posted on: 25 March 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Fashion has pushed the boundaries over the last few decades that hair no longer has the social power that it used to have.

Fashion has pushed the boundaries over the last few decades that hair no longer has the social power that it used to have.

What would be an outrageous or uniquely different hairstyle these days that would stand out from the crowd? However, in the 1960's it was different. Hair had power then. No one who lived through the cultural turbulence of that decade can doubt it.

Few celebrities, in these days of anything goes, have hairstyles that are widely commented on in the media and then copied by the fans except perhaps for Princess Di and the English football legend, David Beckham.

After the trauma of the Second World War, the 1950s and early 1960s were years of relative political and social conservatism. Women were returned from the factories and the war effort to the domestic sphere of the home and there was an idealistic portrayal of the nuclear family and domestic life.

This was the height of the Cold War and anxieties about insidiously spreading communism and the undermining of the established social order were rife. The glamorous woman at home, able to attend to all of the domestic chores and without a hair out of place, was a popular image. Bouffant hairdos became very popular during this decade. In this style the hair is teased annd pileed high on the head and kept in place by sprayed on hair lacquers. This was seen as glamorous and a favorite hairdo with stylish evening wear.

In the early 1960s Jackie Kennedy, wife of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, continued the popularization of the bouffant. This handsome couple were regularly featured in the media and the Kennedy administration was known as Camelot until the tragedy of his assassination.

The intertwining of fashion, film, and popular music deepened during this decade. Dusty Springfield, the white soul singer with panda mascara eyes, helped popularize the beehive hairdo. Those towering structures, made possible by developments in hair lacquer during the 1950's, were ripe material for urban legends. There was some concern about how hygienic these were and so legends sprang up about black widow spiders making nests in them and then the unfortunate wearers dying from the spider bites of hatched infant spiders.

In another version the hairdos of some poor girls became welcoming homes to cockroaches. As the decade came to an end bouffants gradually faded in popularity. The preparation was time consuming. It fell out of favor with movie and theater goers who could not see over it and the image and role of women was rapidly changing.

In the 1960s Hairdressers and stylists featured regularly in the popular press. Vidal Sassoon, from a struggling Jewish family in London's East End, made cultural hair history with his short layered cut in 1959 "The Shape." Other famous short cuts he created in the 1960s were the 'Nancy Kwan' which was longer in the front than the back and later 'The Five Point Cut.'

These were a far cry from the bouffants of the 1950s and early 1960s. He teamed up with the fashion designer Mary Quant in 1957 who called him the "Chanel of hair". Mary Quant helped make the miniskirt one of the fashion hits of the decade. Who can forget Twiggy who was the "Face of 1966" and popularized the elfin and urchin looking hair cut?

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